For many of us, back-to-school usually looks like a line wrapped around the lower field and being a little drunker than anticipated by 2:00PM. The lack of OAP and first day of class run-ins has us questioning how to have those casual reunions with fellow McGill students and, more importantly, how to spend our days before they are filled with reading e-books and Zoom. Especially in 2020, hovering over our careless back-to-school fun is the dark cloud of social distancing and the reality that, come the first snowfall, our willingness to safely socialize outside will come to a halt.
So, what is the best activity to soak up those last days of summer? A picnic!
A picnic basket can hold all those goodies that the usual first weeks brings: somewhat awkward hellos, comparing syllabi and professors, even the simple pleasures of summery fashion and fun snacks.
Instead of looking at these first few weeks as a lack of time to enjoy campus and school before reality sets in, we can look at it as a time to escape the McGill bubble… or at least temporarily move it to Jean Mance Park.
Likewise, by providing individually packed drinks and snacks or only serving pre-packaged goods, it’s very easy to stay within social distancing guidelines.
Picnics are also very compatible with COVID-19 social distancing guidelines…if done safely. Picnics allow us to safely step outside of our social bubble, since they take place in the great outdoors! I recommend marking spots in the grass beforehand, so you can safely keep your six feet apart. Likewise, by providing individually packed drinks and snacks or only serving pre-packaged goods, it’s very easy to stay within social distancing guidelines. A picnic is a great way to see people outside of your bubble without worrying about risk of transmission, and it’s a nice way to make the most of the summer weather while we still can.
Likewise, many of these destinations are near Hotel Dieu: the free COVID testing center!!
So, here are some tips on how to pack your picnic basket for my top three spots in and around the McGill area.
Picnic Basket #1: Jean Mance Park
I had to start with a classic. Frankly, Jean Mance has turned into an extended OAP in the last week, so you probably have this one covered. I’m treating this basket as the most classic of the bunch, since Jean Mance just screams “traditional and lovely day in the park.” I love to bring fun activities, such as beads and paints for a little A&C, a frisbee to play catch, a crossword or book to pass the time, and some good music to provide a nice soundtrack to your afternoon.
Before you head over, I would prep some sustenance to keep you happy all day long. Sandwiches are a picnic classic, I have options for all types of eaters below…
- For the carnivore… smoked turkey slices, tomato, avocado, arugula, mayo, dijon
- For the vegetarian…havarti cheese, tomato, avocado (mashed with balsamic), arugula, mayo, dijon
- For the vegan…navy beans (mashed with balsamic and dijon), tomato, avocado, arugula
*I recommend all sandwiches on sourdough or a Montréal bagel.
I would also pack some snacks that are easily shared and COVID safe. Slicing up a watermelon into triangles makes it very easy to grab mid-picnic while still keeping a distance. I would also section out a bag of chips or some cookies, so that everyone can munch at their own pace. Personally, I’d recommend Miss Vickie’s chips (the Jalapeño variety) and, if you’re feeling extra fancy, I would pick up some sweets from Café Santropol on the way.
As for drinks, I suggest you keep it simple, as you may find yourself floating around saying hello to all the friendly faces you’ve missed over the summer. On your way to the park, stop at a Depanneur and grab some beers, a bottle of wine, or another fancy drink like an iced tea. Sit back and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the cars, bikes, and people scurrying up Parc.
Picnic Basket #2: Mont-Royal Lookout
For this one you want to pack light, but substantially. You’re in for a bit of a hike, so we want it to complement the beautiful view and nourish you after a long trek up the mountain, yet also make sure your pack isn’t weighing you down. You’ll want to stay hydrated, so I recommended bringing a big water bottle, even if it means carrying a little extra weight. If you’re like me, and you want to have a little happy hour as you take in the view, I’d recommend bringing a few cans of beer or a bottle of crisp white wine.
For snacks, I’d go for a deconstructed charcuterie board: carrots, sliced apple, pretzels, sliced white cheddar, hummus, etc. Also bring some trail mix, in case you are feeling snacky along the way. This picnic is both about the journey and the destination, so be sure to take lots of pictures, both on your walk and at the lookout at the top.
Picnic Basket #3: Parc Lahaie in the Mile End
For this one we are going a little classier, since we are leaving the GMA (Greater McGill Area) and headed to hipster Montreal. Parc Lahaie is right at the corner of St. Laurent and Laurier, centered around a beautiful fountain. You can also transport this bougie basket to Parc La Fontaine. To keep things light and fun, pre-mix some mimosas at home. I find 2:1 prosecco to juice ratio works best.
…the croissants, fig and cheese baguettine, and olive bread are all an 11/10.
In terms of snacks, since you’re up in the Mile End I highly suggest grabbing your picnic items up there. Guillaume is one of my all time favourite bakeries; the croissants, fig and cheese baguettine, and olive bread are all an 11/10. If you really want to make a day of it, I’d say go to Jean Talon Market to get an assortment of fruits, cheese, and jams to go along with your baked goods. A favourite fruit salad of mine for this time of year includes concord grapes, peaches, strawberries, cantaloupe, and mint. If you’re looking for some cheeses and dips to top your bready-goodness, try a brie, goat, or aged cheddar cheese, and a fig jam.
Or, if you’d rather not prepare food and you want to explore all the fantastic restaurants in this area instead, try take-out from Larry’s, Falafel Yoni, and Slice and Soda. All are restaurants within ten minutes of the park. Be sure to bring along a nice blanket, speaker, some plates and napkins, and a fun conversational game like Cards Against Humanity or Bananagrams. You’re in the Mile End, so feel free to make this picnic a little more magical.
And those are my tips! You can also take these curated baskets wherever, or adjust them and make them your own. Thanks, and have a safe, happy, and delicious beginning to the semester!